“Thank you for returning my Tupperware.”
Somehow, that’s not a line you ever thought you’d hear French actress Isabelle Huppert say. But she murmurs exactly that, in her husky, Gallic-accented voice, in “Dead Man Down.”
Pairing Huppert with Tupperware is only the beginning of what this misbegotten revenge thriller gets wrong.
The actress, known for playing daring roles in provocative films, is cast here as a loving French mother in a humble, New York City high-rise who constantly pushes home-baked cookies and other treats, packed up in plastic Tupperware containers, on visitors.
And she’d like that Tupperware back, please.
Huppert’s casting (and passion for Tupperware) is only one of the many dissonant notes struck in “Dead Man,” a murky action crime drama that marks the American debut of Danish director Niels Arden Oplev, who made the original “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.”
Essentially, “Dead Man” is an action film with an art-house sensibility and heart. The end result is lots of moody staring in between extended shootouts.
Colin Farrell stars as Victor, a rising crewmember working for Alphonse (Terrence Howard), a nasty crime boss. Someone is killing off members of Alphonse’s gang and sending him death threats and Alphonse is determined to find out who it is.
Without giving away too much, suffice it to say that Victor is not who he seems at first and is playing a dangerous game. It grows even more dangerous when he becomes involved with Beatrice (Noomi Rapace), a fellow tenant in his apartment building. She’s a beautician whose face was supposedly badly scarred in a car accident–in reality, she has a few red lines near her left eye–and who is playing a risky game of her own.
Huppert plays Beatrice’s mother. She spends her days cooking and smoking in their shared apartment, dressed in a silk wrapper or frilly summer frock. In between packing gourmet delights into Tupperware, she encourages her daughter’s tentative romance with Victor. How she came to New York, where and with whom she had Beatrice, and whether she ever held a job, we never learn.
The movie, based on a screenplay by J.H. Wyman (“The Mexican”), gets so caught up in its excessively complex plotting and attempts to create a gritty yet atmospheric version of New York that its characters never emerge as anything more than hazy conceits. It mostly shuttles between scenes of Farrell brooding or having cryptic conversations with Beatrice and scenes of extreme violence.
The actors–the cast also includes Dominic Cooper and F. Murray Abrahams — mostly seem at sea here, and a viewer can’t blame them. Farrell serves up heaping helpings of intensity mixed with sensitivity but you never for a minute believe that you’d run into Victor on a New York street. Ditto for Rapace’s Beatrice and most of the other characters.
In the end, a viewer can do little more than appreciate “Dead Man’s” shimmering look and wish all involved better luck in their next endeavor. This one, sadly, is as plastic and opaque as the Tupperware container into which Huppert crams her cookies.